TORONTO — Automakers in Canada are increasingly leaning on all-wheel drive to sell their vehicles as the market begins to slide.
“It’s important,” Gonzalo Contreras, Ford of Canada’s product marketing manager, said during an interview at the Canadian International AutoShow in February. The redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer tall wagon has standard awd. Previously, it had been optional.
“We used to have a front-wheel drive, as you know, and the take rate on front-wheel drive on Explorer was [low]. And then when you look at the top purchase reasons for every segment, for SUVs in general and Explorer as well, allwheel drive or four-wheel drive is the No. 1.
“We are listening to our customers, and we are offering what they want to drive and what they value.”
GETTING OUT FRONT ON AWD
As awd gains prominence in Canada, automakers are reevaluating their offerings.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is expected to offer awd for a refreshed Chrysler Pacifica in 2020. Some Canadian dealers welcome the move, saying it would give the minivan a competitive advantage. FCA would not confirm whether the move will happen.
Even sedans are getting in on the awd action. All-wheel drive is standard for the 2019 Nissan Altima, a move that Nissan Canada CEO Joni Paiva thinks will give the sedan a boost in a car market that has plummeted in recent years.
“Some competitors are going to stay with front-wheel drive, so that’s a pretty good reason for customers to say, ‘You know, I’m pretty loyal to this brand, but I will consider [buying a Nissan].’ It’s a breakthrough in that segment,” Paiva said at the Automotive News Canada Congress in February in Toronto.
Ted Lalka, Subaru Canada’s vice-president of product planning and marketing, said awd gives consumers more confidence, especially in the harsh Canadian weather. awd has been standard for the Legacy sedan and most of its other models for decades.
“If you have driven a vehicle with all-wheel drive, you really get a sense of what it delivers, and it takes a little time to gain that appreciation,” Lalka said. “I had the opportunity to drive a competitor’s vehicle, a front-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s a well-respected one. It was in slippery conditions. That’s when I realized just how much advantage you get with all-wheel drive.”
Once drivers switch to an awd vehicle, Lalka said, they typically want one as their next vehicle. “The all-wheel drive is about safety. It’s about control. It’s also about the handling of the vehicle. We’re finding that our competitors are also starting to offer all-wheel drive in increasing numbers, so clearly they’re seeing the advantage and seeing their customers looking for those kinds of advantages.